Fifty years ago a producer named Mickie Most signed five teen-aged musicians from Manchester, England to a record deal. It didn’t go unnoticed that Peter Noone, the lead singer, resembled a young John F. Kennedy.
The resemblance proved more than skin-deep. Peter was talented, charming and Catholic to boot. And he, like Kennedy, spoke with an intrusive R–“Americar,” “Canadar,” “Cubar.”
Most wisely chose to make Peter (aka “Herman”) the lead Hermit. The 15-year-old was already a pro, having starred on a British soap opera. Within a year Herman’s Hermits hit Number 1 with “I’m Into Something Good.” They outsold the Beatles in 1965. In all, the band sold 75 million records.
That’s the backstory of this month’s screamingly good concert in Lenoir, NC. Peter and four new Hermits rocked the house. At 66, he’s still hitting his notes with vigor, still wowing fans with charm and self-deprecating humor.
The Olde English Christmas Concert brought his daughter Natalie to her first North Carolina performance. Natalie, based in Nashville, won hearts with her own material including “Hold Me Down” and a new piece, “Untitled Song.” She harmonized with her Pops on “O Holy Night,” and “The Angels are Crying Tonight,” a hauntingly beautiful ballad so appropriate for Christmastime.
Appropriate describes the Noones. Peter is one of the most cheerful, gracious performers around, and the mutual admiration between him and his fans has no signs of abating. That Saturday afternoon brought Noonefest, a convergence of the singer and his “Noonatics” with games, gift swap, Q&A and a sound check. Fans came to Lenoir from as far as England to be part of the fun.
“I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” “Mrs. Brown” and “There’s a Kind of Hush.” We know the lyrics by heart, but it’s more than special when led pep-rally style by Peter, the guy who first sang them in that precious time when we were young and all things were possible—a time before we’d heard of Kent State or Chappaquiddick, before Vietnam went so horribly wrong.
The British Invasion came on the heels of JFK’s assassination. After so much sadness, America was ready for fresh air, and British musicians delivered like nothing we’ve seen before or since: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, and Dave Clark Five and other acts such as Petula Clark, Peter and Gordon, the Animals, the Kinks, the Hollies and the Who, the Hermits’ one-time warm-up band who trashed hotel rooms on a whim.
Peter Noone and his mates took the high road. They refused to embrace grunge, drugs or vulgarity. They didn’t claim to be more popular than Jesus. Theirs was happy music that made people smile. It still does. Everyone at the Lenoir concert was having a good time that night, including the performers.
Critics say the Hermits’ music is ear candy, irrelevant to their time. That point could be argued in terms of shock value and rebellion, but in the end, music is art and a matter of style. It’s also a business, and in the mid-Sixties, Herman’s Hermits was one of the hottest properties on the planet. Seventy-five million records made a lot of cash registers ring.
In a business strewn with bad choices and burnouts, Peter is still out there living the dream. He endures like a vintage Peter Pan. Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone is the longest running act at Disney World. His concert schedule includes dozens of venues plus several benefits each year.
And the fans endure because they’ve never seen him act the churlish brat, never seen him behind bars or in rehab, never seen him embarrass his family or his country. He has worn the same wedding band for 45 years.
That Saturday night I watched Peter engage the long line of autograph seekers. There he was, the star who knew John Lennon and Brian Jones, chatting away, signing everything people brought. I couldn’t help but notice his kindness to kids, moms and dads, elders, people on crutches and in chemotherapy. He was gracious to the end. I know this because I was the last person in line.
Clearly, Mickie Most was into something good when he discovered the Hermits. The Lenoir concert was a reminder of how good it was.